The Basic Laws of Human Nature

As individuals, there are certain ideals and beliefs that we consider so important that they make up the very essence of who we are. These are the personal values that are under our direct control and determine our character.

But there is another set of rules that we have a lot less control over. These rules seem to override our personal values a majority of the time and usually are the root cause of most situations, both good and bad, that we find ourselves in. These are laws of human nature that we are either born with, or they are instilled in us so early in life that they might as well be innate. These laws not only contribute to what we believe in but what drives our behavior.

When we struggle to understand why we do certain things, even self-destructive things, the answer may not be readily explainable, but if we dig deep enough in search of a reason, we will usually end up at one of the following Laws of Human Nature:

Humans Ultimately Desire Happiness

It can be said that everything we humans do is ultimately to be happy. Everything we desire, while having some value on the surface, can be broken down into further chunks of reasons why until we can't break it down any further and we end up at the root desire, which is to be happy.

Now the Aesthetics from the teachings of Buddhism might be the exception to this rule, since they gave up any and all pleasures and in the process may have given up the human desire to experience happiness. But even the Buddha might argue that the Aesthetics may have given up the very thing that makes us human. But don’t quote me on that.

Everywhere we see people seeking pleasure, wealth, and a good reputation. But while each of these has some value, none of them can occupy the place of the chief good for which humanity should aim. To be an ultimate end, an act must be self-sufficient and final, "that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else" - Aristotle, from Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle asks - "What is the ultimate purpose of human existence?" and answers that happiness is an end in itself and no further reason can be found for its desire. Or that there is no underlying reason for why we seek happiness.

Humans Have Basic Needs That Must Be Gratified

We humans have needs, of course, and most of us could rattle off an entire list of them without too much trouble. But these are our superficial conscious needs, not the real needs that drive us into all kinds of crazy decision making that leads to us to questioning, "why the hell did I just do that?" The needs we need to be concerned with are our more basic subconscious needs that are really at the helm.

These needs can be arranged in a nice, neat hierarchy starting with our physiological needs, then our safety needs, followed by our need for love and belonging, then our need for esteem (from within and from others), and finally at top of the pyramid is our need for self-actualization or self-fulfillment (to feel like we are living the life of our true desires). And for a much more in-depth discussion, check out my post on the subject - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

The idea is that we are driven by needs that we don't even recognize most of the time, and when we do, we tend to under or over emphasize their importance. Until we dig deep and really understand what these needs are and how they impact our lives, we at least need to realize that they are their and that we may not be in as much control of our lives as we believe.

Humans Seek Control

When we experience the feeling that we are in control of our lives, that our activities and habits are those of our own choosing, we experience a feeling of complete autonomy. And when we feel that we are not in control of our lives, this can lead to a state of heightened stress and anxiety stemming from our inability to accurately predict an uncertain future for ourselves. Further, when we have lost control over our own lives, we will attempt to gain control over those around us as a means of finding that feeling of control.

"Having a strong sense of controlling one's life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered." - Angus Campbell

Hmm… if having control over our lives is at the very least a prerequisite for happiness, and the result of having this control is the feeling of autonomy, then freedom must be at the root of happiness. Maybe in order to achieve happiness, we must first achieve personal freedom.

Check out this article in Psychology Today - The No. 1 Contributor to Happiness or read Stephen Covey's - The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Humans Seek The Path of Least Resistance

Humans long ago evolved to find the easiest, most efficient ways to do almost everything. This is a great thing. It is what got us to the top of the food chain so long ago. By working in teams, developing tools, and building machines, we have arguably made life exponentially easier than it was for our ancestors.

But lately, we have taken this to a level that is not always for the better. Work has become physically easier for most, which takes away a natural opportunity to get in some exercise. And play has become so effortless that we can do it from the couch using just our thumbs.

The easiest way to do something is not always the best.

Humans Will Find a Way to Get What They Truly Need

Humans survived and thrived through the evolutionary onslaught, not because we were the strongest or fastest creatures on the Serengeti, but because of the development of this incredible problem solving machine we call our brain. No obstacle was too big that we couldn't figure out a solution, and then we passed it along to our offspring. The genes that produced brains that were intellectually superior got passed along, and ones that didn't, didn't.

Lately, it seems like people are not getting enough of the things in life that they need, and it has become much easier to blame someone, besides themselves for this dearth of basic goods. But, upon some level of self-reflection, it may be discovered that this lack of things they need may, in truth, be a lack of things they want.

Knowing the difference between a want and a need could be the measure of one's contentment.

Humans are Ultimately Driven by Our Two Core Fears, Dying and Being Alone

Studies have shown that people have a much higher aversion to loss than attraction to gain. Ultimately, humans evolved to act on fear over desire, and for good reason.

But in today's world, where the everyday risk of dying is so minuscule, and the amount of opportunities presented to us are plentiful, why do we remain so overly fixated on avoidance of failure. It's our inability to shake off those ancient fears of dying or being alone.

The fear of dying has kept us alive over the millennia and it still does to this day. In most cases, our fear of dying is a good thing and it should not be ignored. But our fear of being alone, the fear that was so important in our early evolution, the outcome of which was about the same as death, is now not nearly as valid.

Humans are social creatures that desire and even require interaction with each other. Being alone for too long can lead to varying levels of psychological pathology. But in today's world, being alone is not a death sentence and it is usually only temporary, unless you choose otherwise. But an irrational fear of loneliness, can allow us to make some poor, even catastrophic, choices in life.

"As you live your values, your sense of identity, integrity, control, and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace. You will define yourself from within, rather than by people’s opinions or by comparisons to others." - Stephen Covey


Knowing these basic laws, and recognizing them in ourselves as possible explanations for why we do the things we do and don't do the things we know we should, can help us recognize the things about ourselves that might need fixing. And that’s a great first step down the path of a more adventurous life.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu

Further Reading: